Did Jesus Christ Fail as the Messiah?

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Did Jesus Christ Fail as the Messiah?

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Ever since the first Roman legionnaires marched into Judea, a heightened tension permeated Jewish society. People prayed for God's deliverance from the harsh Roman oppression. They prayed that God would send the promised Messiah during their lifetime.

According to the prophets, this Messiah, the "Anointed One" destined to serve as the King of Israel on behalf of God, would arrive in Jerusalem with the very power of God. The prophets told how He would slay the great armies of those who opposed Him. He would then restore the Israelites to their status as God's chosen people, all nations would come under His rule, and His Kingdom would never end.

On this particular day, a quiet peace settled over the city of Nazareth. It was a Sabbath day—a holy time when Jews worshipped God. On this Sabbath, in the synagogue of Nazareth, a local man, a carpenter by trade (the job in that day likely including stone masonry and major construction), rose and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah by the leader of the synagogue. The young man, whose name was Yeshua (or Jesus from the Greek form), was known as the son of the late carpenter Yosef (or Joseph) of Nazareth. Jesus read from the sacred text:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:1-2).

The synagogue was filled with silent anticipation as they wondered what would happen next. The congregation stared at Jesus as He walked back to His seat. His next statement lit a firestorm of excitement, disbelief, even anger. Jesus told the astonished crowd, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

The reaction of many in the synagogue was angry dismissal: "We know you! You're Joseph's son. What gives you the presumptuous right to say these things about yourself?"

Jesus responded with the proverb, "No prophet is accepted in his own country."

The confrontation between Jesus and those in the synagogue became so intense that they turned into an angry mob and dragged Him to a nearby cliff where some would have thrown Him to His death. In the confusion Jesus was able to slip away through the crowd (Luke 4:16-30).

So began the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It would end 3 1⁄2 years later with His crucifixion outside the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans.

You would think that after this inglorious ministry Jesus would be a forgotten figure in history. Why did He attract such violent opposition and rise to such prominence? Why do His life and teachings still have impact on billions of people today? Moreover, was Jesus really the Messiah—or did He fail to achieved what had been foretold of this promised figure? 

Background of the prophesied Messiah

To start to answer these questions we have to go back to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament, in the Bible. Much of the Old Testament is the story of one family. About 4,000 years ago a man named Abraham was told by God that through his progeny all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Most of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, tells the story of Abraham and three generations of his family. His descendants through His grandson Jacob, renamed Israel, eventually ended up in Egypt where, over time, their numbers multiplied and they were enslaved by the Egyptians, who saw them as a threat. The second book of the Hebrew Scriptures, Exodus, tells how God delivered them from slavery and, through Moses, led them to the land He had promised to Abraham.

The descendants of Abraham through Jacob became an important kingdom in the ancient Middle East, bearing the name Israel. Sitting astride the trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt, Israel's history was one of wealth and power, as well as invasion and war. The nation became split into two kingdoms—Israel and Judah—and the people of both were eventually deported by enemies, with a few from Judah (known as Jews) later returning to the Promised Land. Throughout the history of Israel and Judah, prophets appeared telling the people to return to God and declaring the future arrival of God's Messiah to bless all people.

The Jews of the first century, living in the shadow of Herod's magnificent temple, and under the heel of the Romans, longed for the promised messianic Kingdom. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus both attest to the fervor of Jewish messianic anticipation.

It was in this charged atmosphere of occupation and anticipation that Jesus, a hometown carpenter—no official priest or teacher in the temple or great warrior king—claimed that the Spirit of God was upon Him to free people and bring them a message of good news.

Obviously, the people of Nazareth were a bit disappointed in the idea that the local carpenter was the promised Messiah whom the prophets claimed would rule all nations "with a rod of iron."

Could this be the Messiah?

After the incident in Nazareth, Jesus continued His ministry, traveling across Judea and Galilee from town to town, preaching in the synagogues, in people's houses and on the country hillsides. He declared that the Kingdom of God was coming and people needed to turn to God. He also performed wondrous miracles—healing the sick and the lame. People began to believe. Maybe Jesus was the promised King.

If Jesus was the Messiah, then their deliverance was near! The rabbis told them how the Messiah would overthrow the enemies of Israel, and all the peoples of the world would know that the God of Israel was truly God.

Isaiah had prophesied: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it" (Isaiah 2:2). From comparing a number of scriptural references, it is evident that "mountains" symbolize large nations in prophecy and that "hills" refer figuratively to smaller nations or tribes.

Isaiah continues: "Many people shall come and say, 'Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (verse 3).

The Jews anticipated this glorious messianic reign when people would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; [and] nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (verse 4).

Maybe, just maybe, this miracle-working carpenter from Nazareth really was the great warrior King of Isaiah. Around 3 1⁄2 years after the hometown folks tried to throw Jesus from a cliff, He rode into Jerusalem in triumph. Thousands of believers lined the road cheering that the "Son of David," the "King of Israel," had finally arrived!

The Jewish religious leaders were appalled. They asked Jesus to tell the crowds to stop this nonsense. He refused. They hatched a plot to get rid of this would-be Messiah. A few days later, they would succeed—Jesus would be dead, crucified by the Romans. When Jesus was dragged before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, the governor asked Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He replied, "It is as you say." After further pressure from the Jewish leaders, Pilate finally acquiesced to their call for execution, and the lowly teacher from Nazareth was condemned as a threat to the mighty Roman Empire. The sign above His stake of crucifixion that proclaimed His crime referred to Him as "KING OF THE JEWS" (John 18:33-38; 19:19).

The mystery of the Messiah

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would rule the nations from Jerusalem. Jesus' disciples believed He was that Messiah. They expected Him to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish God's Kingdom on earth.

But it didn't happen. Instead, Jewish religious leaders plotted against Him, He was betrayed by one of His own disciples, the Romans beat Him to the point where He wasn't even recognizable and then He was publicly crucified. After His death, many of Jesus' followers were devastated. They lost faith and hope.

Of course, we know that's not the end of the story. Jesus, as the New Testament tells us, was raised from the dead. He visited His disciples again, telling them to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to the world and care for fellow disciples. But then He left—returning to the Father in heaven. What, then, of the Messiah's role of reigning as King over Israel and the entire world in perpetuity?

People began to question whether Jesus was really the prophesied Messiah. Some felt He had failed in His basic mission. Why would He launch His ministry by quoting from a messianic prophecy in Isaiah and then ignore other key prophecies? Why didn't He establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem as Isaiah said He would?

To solve our mystery, let's first look at another of Isaiah's messianic prophecies and then return to the incident in Nazareth.

In Isaiah 52 and 53 the prophet tells of a Servant of God who would be exalted. This Servant would also be beaten and brutally put to death. Isaiah writes, "Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations" (Isaiah 52:14-15, New International Version).

Both the Old and New Testaments teach that it is impossible for a morally corrupt human being to come into the presence of the righteous God unless God grants that person forgiveness through divine grace, or favor.

Few people understand the fundamental biblical teaching of grace. Grace has no significance unless there is justice. Think about it: Forgiveness has no meaning unless someone has done something wrong.

Those with sound Christian background would come to know that a central biblical teaching is the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One or Christ. Why did Jesus die? Why does the Bible focus so much on His crucifixion and resurrection?

If we don't understand why Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified as the prophesied Jewish Messiah, then His death has no importance or meaning. Knowing who Jesus Christ is, and how His life, death and resurrection applies to you, is the most important knowledge you can possess. This truth can change your life!

It's actually a simple concept

God's justice, His understanding of right and wrong, requires your life as punishment for your sins stemming from your sinful nature. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). God loves you, but that doesn't change the definition of good and evil contained in His moral, spiritual law.

God's love, however, supplied a substitute for you and me. The Son of God came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth to bless all nations as our substitute. You can't earn that kind of love. You can only understand your guilt and hopelessness before God's justice and gratefully accept His love and mercy exhibited in the sacrifice of His Son.

The blood of the "suffering Servant" foretold by Isaiah would sprinkle many nations. This was a powerful image for first-century Jews.

Day in and day out, Herod's temple was filled with the sounds and smells of sheep and goats being sacrificed, their blood splattering and sprinkling, as a substitute so that the Jewish people could have favor with God. But the book of Hebrews shows that this sacrificial system was intended to portray something much bigger—especially the great mystery of how one Man's blood would be shed in place of that of all humanity, as all humanity has stood guilty.

Isaiah tells how God's Servant would be despised and rejected, that He would be "wounded for our transgressions... and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, describe the gruesome details of Jesus' death. He was beaten with rods and punched by soldiers. He was stripped naked and flogged with a whip of leather strips with bits of metal and bone on the ends that would tear and mutilate human flesh. Nails were driven into His hands and feet, and He was hung in crucifixion for people to ridicule. Finally,
He was stabbed with a spear and bled to death. All this happened just as Isaiah had foretold it centuries in advance.

Now we can perhaps begin to understand what Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth.

Returning to the synagogue in Nazareth

Let's go back to where we started. The synagogue leader handed Jesus a scroll of the book of Isaiah. Jesus opened the scroll and read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord..."

It is interesting that Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence. The next line in the passage He was reading states, "and the day of vengeance of our God" (Isaiah 61:1-2).

The "day of vengeance" is a reference to another prophecy in Isaiah—a terrifying prophecy of a time when "the indignation of the Lord is against all nations" (Isaiah 34:1-2). It is a time when God dramatically intervenes in human history. In this "day of vengeance" God will send the promised Messiah as King of Kings to judge all people and rule over the earth.

What is it we learn from Jesus here reading only part of a prophecy from Isaiah? Why didn't He read the entire passage?

Jesus was revealing a pivotal point in salvation history—we learn that the Messiah comes to earth not once, but twice!

The first time He came as a lowly carpenter and rabbi teaching the true religion of God and helping many people with various afflictions through miracles. He then died as the substitute sacrifice for the wrong choices of all humanity. That's your wrong choices and my wrong choices. Through His selfless act, He made true freedom possible. He was then resurrected to take His place at the right hand of God the Father. Without His first coming "to heal the brokenhearted [and] to set at liberty those who are oppressed," there is no authentic Christianity.

It is equally true that if Jesus doesn't return to proclaim the day of God's judgment, there likewise is no authentic Christianity. This is the answer to the mystery of the Jewish Messiah. He comes to this earth the first time as the suffering Servant and then a second time, many centuries later, as the conquering King, bringing the way of peace and prosperity to all humanity (see Hebrews 9:28).

What this means to you

You live in the stretch of time between these two appearances of the Messiah. Because of the sacrificial substitute of Jesus Christ, you can have a personal relationship with your Creator. You can become Jesus' disciple.

A disciple is more than a believer. A disciple follows a particular teacher. A disciple dedicates his or her life to imitating that teacher. Christianity has enough believers. What Jesus Christ wants are committed disciples.

Study the Gospels and you will find that the core of Jesus' message is the coming Kingdom of God. He expected His disciples to be prepared for that Kingdom. His disciples were to have a different worldview, a different code of right and wrong, a different way of worshipping God. The good news of the Kingdom and all that entails is still Christ's message today. It is His message to you!

Real discipleship is more than showing up at church services once a week. Your relationships, your character, your conduct at work, how you relate to God, your entire life must change. Christ gave His all for you and He requires nothing less than everything you are in return.

No, Jesus Christ absolutely did not fail! As the true Messiah, He succeeded perfectly in the objective of His first coming. And He will likewise succeed perfectly in the objective of His second coming. This is an absolute promise of God. Jesus is going to return soon as King of Kings to establish God's Kingdom over the entire earth. We live in the shadow of that magnificent event. Turn to God now! Become more than a believer—become a disciple! And be prepared for the Messiah's everlasting reign. GN